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Pennsylvania parents owing child support may feel helpless

Nonpayment of child maintenance can have severe consequences in Pennsylvania. A parent who falls behind in child support may have his or her driver's license and passport suspended, property seized and credit report damaged. Additionally, a non-paying parent may end up in jail, complicating matters even more. A recent report showed that in the U.S., over five million people owed child support, and almost 700,000 of them were in jail.

When parents who owe child support are incarcerated, they may still be responsible for the payments. The amount owed may keep accumulating-- sometimes with interest-- while time is being served. In some states, incarceration is considered voluntary unemployment, which means incarcerated parents are ineligible for having child support payments reduced during the time in jail. Parents owing child support are often released from jail facing staggering debt. To make matters worse, people with criminal records may have a difficult time finding a job that pays well after they have served their time.

Overwhelming child support debt can spin into a vicious cycle. Parents who cannot pay may find themselves back in jail when their probation is revoked for nonpayment. They may believe there is no hope for paying what they owe, and they may make poor choices based on that belief. Some parents feel they have no choice but to leave town. The debt becomes even more crushing when it is owed for more than one child or to more than one partner.

In the past few years, some states have allowed judges more leeway in modifying child support payments for parents who are in jail. Advocates of inmates are trying to pass laws on the federal level that would stop child support from accumulating while a non-custodial parent is imprisoned. Until this happens, some in Pennsylvania who are dealing with child support issues find it helpful to speak to an attorney about their options.

Source:, "Behind bars and owing thousands in child support", Tanzina Vega, June 14, 2016

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